After a tantalizing reveal trailer in the June Xbox Showcase, featuring a post-apocalyptic world where a nameless hero climbs a massive rock tower, I finally got to play Jusant and discover its mechanics. What I found was exactly what I hoped: a climbing adventure with tight controls and an intriguing world to discover. It’s a lot of fun making a path up the tower and learning about the history of it. I ended my demo impressed and excited to climb to the top.
Jusant is being developed and published by DON’T NOD, the versatile developer behind games such as the narrative-focused Life is Strange and the action-focused Vampyr.
Story – Letters From Before
The opening cutscene of Jusant introduces a mysterious young drifter. They walk over a desert biome through rubble of ships to look up at a giant rock pillar that stretches high into the sky – above the clouds and out of sight. This is the Tower, where I spent my entire demo. Gameplay begins on the Tower looking toward a large distinct structure jutting out of the wall. This is your current goal: to simply find a way up to it.
Like this introductory sequence, Jusant’s story is primarily conveyed through its world and visuals, but there are plenty of notes laying around for you to find and read that shed light on the people that lived in and around the Tower. These journal entries are brief and interesting enough that I was excited to pick them up every time. I also enjoyed the way the characters in these entries spoke, depicting the setting and history of this world in my mind. They refer to their world in colloquial terms that are unfamiliar in our real world and it engaged the sci-fi/fantasy part of my mind.
Gameplay – Put Your Right Hand In…
Climbing. That’s the hook and draw of Jusant. After the initial cutscene, you begin your ascent on the Tower by climbing hand over hand on anything you can hold onto. On a gamepad, each trigger controls an arm and hand (left trigger for left arm, right trigger for right arm). Holding a trigger down is like holding on with that trigger’s respective hand. You then motion for the next hold and your free arm will reach for it and you can grab it. Only one hand at anytime is needed to stay on a wall.
This mechanical gameplay was clunky to me at first, but soon became rhythmic and captivating. I began climbing slowly, making sure each hand was gripped and aiming for the precise hand hold. Later in my playtime, I trusted my fingers to match the rhythm of my nameless climber – I was climbing up with speed! It is quite satisfying to have such control over your character’s movement – even down to their limbs.
When I first thought about climbing being the primary gameplay, I immediately thought of both The Legend of the Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the Uncharted series. Whereas Zelda allows you to climb nearly any surface with any hand placement, Uncharted gives you a much more linear approach that shows you the handholds with white, yellow, or some other designation. Jusant’s climbing falls closer to Uncharted’s linearity while retaining Zelda’s naturalistic feeling of freedom. I rarely felt forced along a single path, but more like I discovered the best path. Handholds are not highlighted, but are natural outcroppings or pockets in the Tower. Wooden boards or other obvious fixtures are also used for holds.
In addition to finding the holds with your arms, climbing also requires stamina management and using your three carabiners/pitons. Your maximum stamina depletes as you climb and completely refills when you stand on solid ground. In between standing, you may need to rest from an arm to regain your stamina up to its current maximum or you won’t be able to climb further. I enjoyed this resource management in Jusant’s beginning stages, but I do hope the difficulty increases as you progress. I never had a game-over screen in my demo time and never completely ran out of stamina.
Beside increased difficulty, I also noticed a lack of progression and wanted a better hint system. There are chapters to this game as you progress through various parts of the Tower, each more diverse than I would have thought. However, you gain few new tools as you ascend. I hope to see more climbing tools and puzzle solving as I progress in the complete game. Also, there is a hint button that will vaguely show your next objective, but I think there could be a clearer hint for times when the path is particularly obfuscated or the player can’t figure it out.
Graphics – Next-Generation Minimalism
Jusant is a very pretty-looking game, and it’s mix of impressionism and minimalism is captivating. Think Journey meets Far: Lone Sails. The colors are bold, but largely monochrome and unshaded on each object.
The lighting is realistic and dynamic; it’s a major strength here. Shadows are cast from small blades of otherworldly grass, and through small slits in wood. When the sun is hot, these patches of shade don’t feel like developer checkpoints, but natural safety zones. The shadows produced by your hanging rope and moving arms makes climbing that much more exciting by imitating the tactile nature of the adventure.
Walking from the bright exterior into a shady crag gives you the sensation of your eyes adjusting. Sometimes it’s a little dark for a while and it will adjust. I do recommend playing in a dark room to perceive the full range of lighting. Otherwise, you may need to adjust the gamma settings on the game each time you enter a dark area.
Sound – Rural Future
The sound design I experienced was near perfect. During menus, a bubbly and minimal synth soundtrack played and escalated. It perfectly matched the rural setting and surprising technology that Jusant combines so well. During regular gameplay, a swath of environmental sounds made me feel alone in a vast world. Footsteps echo and birds trill. During one extended climb, a rousing score fueled my excitement to reach the top.
The preview for Jusant was provided by DON’T NOD. The Demo was played on Xbox Series S.